Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 12.04.2008


Bang Bang Shoot Shoot
Obama, the NRA and gun hysteria 
Commentary by Rick Levin

The twilight’s last gleaming

Watch out, pilgrims! There’s a new sheriff rollin’ into town, and word has it he’s gonna to take away all yer guns.

Or at least that’s what certain concerned citizens of these great states seem to believe. Post-election sales of weapons have increased nationally, with gun-rightsers stockpiling firearms and ammo against what they believe to be the coming communist/socialist surge of gun-control legislation enacted by President-elect Barack Obama. Gun sales were up 15 percent this October compared to October 2007, according to the National
Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade industry’s association. 

Who’s that knockin’ on our door? Sally, quick, grab the Glock!

Just listen, for example, to the verbal heat in this Aug. 6 posting to a blog on the Washington, D.C.-based, by someone nicknamed Patriot: “The NRA is not arming terrorists. Conversely they are deterring open attacks on small towns and in the heartland … Yes, Barak (sic) Hussein Obama scares the ccrap (sic) out of me.”

Open attacks in the heartland? Brings to mind the coveralled patriots who sat on the piers in Seattle with shotguns across their laps, waiting for the kamikaze after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Likely it is just this breed of hysteria that has caused local and national gun sales to spike. Business at the Baron’s Den gun range in Eugene was said to be booming during the past few weeks, though who knows what’s going on at J&W Arms in Springfield or Savage Arms in Eugene; they either refused to talk to us or just didn’t return our calls.

Jay Green, owner of Big Boy Gun Toys in Bend, however, did say his business in weapons accessories has been good and steady for the past little while, though he hasn’t seen any drastic increases. “I know that there’s a reasonably strong panic buying on a lot of the firearms,” Green said. “If they had been thinking about it, (the election) sure as hell pushed them over the top.”

The National Rifle Association (NRA), which pumped $15 million into defeating Obama’s bid for the White House, provided the lion’s share of the rhetorical oomph for this over-the-topness in firearm purchases. In an open letter to NRA members, Executive President Wayne LaPierre wrote that never in the organization’s history had they faced a presidential candidate “with such a deep-rooted hatred of firearm freedoms.”

According to, NRA’s campaign distorted Obama’s position on gun control “beyond recognition.” Doesn’t matter. If the past eight years have taught us anything, it’s that facts don’t mean shit. What counts are beliefs.

And the NRA and its legions of members and supporting non-members believe that Obama, the liberals’ liberal, isn’t going to stop until every last gun is confiscated and melted down to slag. Never mind how. Just dig it. The Wild West is under siege once again, and the new sheriff’s a gun-hating … well, you’ve seen Blazing Saddles, right? Cue town bell.


Lawyers, guns and money

Because the Weekly is such a renowned left-leaning pinko rag, and I can’t get many local folks to talk with me about guns vs. Obama whoever answered the phone at J&W Arms said “No” before I even asked a question. I’m forced to call the NRA headquarters in D.C., where I finally get in touch with spokesman Andrew Arulanandam. He’s a really nice and extremely well-spoken guy, one of those million-dollar lobbyists with oodles of convenient facts and homey anecdotes close at hand.

Arulanandam tells me the recent election “sends shivers down the spines of gun owners throughout the country,” adding that as an Illinois legislator Obama voted against an individual’s right to defend himself and his family in his own home. This was a pet story of the NRA’s during the election, something approaching an in-house mythology, and it goes like this:

On Dec. 8, 2003, in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, an intruder crawled through the dog door of homeowner Hale DeMar while DeMar and his two young children slept. The intruder stole a set of house keys and other items and made a clean getaway. DeMar reported the burglary to police the next morning. Then, that night, the 31-year-old burglar, Morio Billings, returned, unarmed. DeMar shot Billings twice with his .38-caliber Smith & Wesson. Billings crashed through a window and then drove himself in DeMar’s car to the hospital, where he was arrested.

The kicker: Because of a local ban on the possession of firearms, DeMar was charged with a petty offense, carrying a maximum fine of $750.

According to Arulanandam, Obama “voted to prosecute a father who had defended his family while they were in their own home.” What he doesn’t say is that DeMar failed to change the locks in the intervening 12 hours between break-ins; that he didn’t call the police when his home security alarm went off that night; and that, without saying a word, he shot Billings twice as the perp was trying to disconnect a flat-paneled TV set. What Obama actually did was vote to uphold Wilmette’s handgun ban.

So first it’s Joe the Plumber, who is actually barely a plumber and doesn’t pay his taxes. Now we get Hale the Vigilante, who shoots first and asks questions later. 

“It’s safe to say that gun ownership is not a partisan issue,” Arulanandam tells me. “Most Americans view it as an issue of freedom.” When I tell him that several times during his campaign Obama stated that he had no intention of taking away anyone’s legally acquired guns, Arulanandam points to such revealing “unscripted moments” as Obama’s comment that during hard times certain embittered people cling to guns. “He’s demonstrating his contempt against gun owners,” Arulanandam explains.

When I point out that several individuals and groups considered the NRA’s anti-Obama campaign to be highly suspect, Arulanandam argues that all his organization did was get the facts out there. “I think the operative word there is that we tried to inform the people about Obama’s record,” he says. “They know it is bad politics to be on the bad side of the gun issue. They didn’t want it to be a political liability.”

At issue, it seems, are legislative efforts to take so-called assault weapons off the streets, the argument running that only an idiot would hunt with an Uzi, and otherwise such high-octane weaponry is pointlessly dangerous  —  too much firepower. “Assault weapons,” Arulanandam says, “it’s so ambiguous. The biggest lie out there is that the 1994 gun ban banned machine guns. The Clinton gun ban regulated semi-automatics with two or more cosmetic characteristics. None affect the performance of the firearm. They did a good job lying to the American people.”

But is a gun  —  any gun  —  still just a gun?

During his campaign, Obama spoke about the “two realities about guns,” meaning on the one side lawful gun owners, and on the other “teenage gang bangers” snuffing each other out on the streets of Philadelphia and Chicago and just about everywhere. For Obama, the issue of guns in this country is critical, and it’s complex. For the NRA, it’s black and white: All guns should be legal, and none need to be registered, and any regulation is a slap in the face of our civil rights.

Black. White. Some folks don’t like those two to mix. There seems to be an underlying note of race and class panic in the NRA’s hyperventilated advocacy for unfettered gun rights  —  the elephant in the NRA’s shooting gallery. The organization’s arguments supporting the Second Amendment seem to hinge less on the potential of overthrowing some tyrannical government than their unspoken fear that law-abiding white folk need to be armed  —  to the teeth, no less  —  against some none-too-distant time when this country’s melting pot spills over, and all the Willie Hortons and the Morio Billings start rampaging around and rioting like the hoi-polloi madmen they are.


Happiness is a warm (fully loaded, semi-automatic) gun

For purposes of research, I decided to go ballistic myself. Never done that before. The most I’ve done is pop off a .22 rifle. Of course, I also had a BB gun when I was a kid.

Apparently, I’m a very good shot with the high-powered stuff. A dead eye. The first time I squeezed the trigger of a 9-mm Glock, I drilled a kill-center shot into a paper target strung about 20 feet away. Almost took off the thumb on my left hand, too, when the slide kicked back and hit my second and third knuckle, opening up a bloody wound that — once I realized I hadn’t accidentally killed myself or anyone else — only added to my feeling of bad-assedness.

Loading a gun, holding a gun, shooting a gun like that is no joke. It’s like wielding the power of God.

So let me make a confession: I like guns. I like books and movies and TV shows with guns in them. And I now know I like the feel of a gun in my hand. The kick is immensely satisfying, almost immortal-making. It’s sexy, too. Hell, some of my best friends own guns.

But, if this makes any sense, I also hate guns. Imagine the history of the world minus projectile weapons. I’d rather run from an axe murderer than a pistol-packin’ mama any day of the week.

Sounds sorta like addiction, doesn’t it? And, truth be told, this country is pathologically addicted to guns. Period. We apotheosize and worship and dream and cheer guns. John Wayne. Dirty Harry. Grand Theft Auto.

Just witness the hoo-haw of me and the two other very safe, very nonviolent guys who were nice enough to take me shooting a few week back at Baron’s Den gun range. There was a lot of Peckinpah-type laughing and back-slapping in the style of the Wild Bunch after a spume of unregenerate violence. We were like children sparking cherry bombs in our mean old neighbor’s mailbox. It was fun. It was really, really fun.


You talkin’ to me? Are you talkin’ to me?

There are only four million dues-paying members of the NRA. That’s not all that many  —  little more than 1 percent of the U.S. population, or half of New York City. However, as Andrew Arulanandam says, taking into account “people who think that they are members, that number is significantly higher.”

The point is, it’s not all that easy to find card-carrying members of the NRA. I did, however, happen to find an ex-card-carrying member of the NRA in Eugene.

Back around 1998, Robert Rogers was living near Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho, where he started doing a little deer hunting. “I just ended up being more around that culture up there,” Rogers says. After thinking it through, he decided to join the NRA. “Part of it for me was,” he adds, “we tend to over legislate. It had got to the point where there were so many laws and rules; meanwhile none of it seemed to be working.”

Rogers says, however, that he soon grew disillusioned with the NRA’s tactics. “Shortly thereafter [joining], the blitzkrieg of information came, and the constantly wanting money, presenting this whole ‘It’s only us looking out for you,’” he says. “What I found out on the way was that they just seemed so political. I guess after getting a little educated on them I found they weren’t much different than the folks they were against. There wasn’t much for me to philosophically support.”

In the end, Rogers quit the NRA, going so far as to send a letter to Executive President LaPierre outlining his objections. “I wanted them to know their tactics suck  —  you don’t practice what you preach. Being up in Idaho, where gun ownership is so common, I came to see you could still get a gun any time you want, you could go hunting any time you want,” he says. “I didn’t see where my right to have a gun and use it were really all that trampled on.”


Praise the Lord and pass the ammo

Unless you think Obama is a lying sack of Illinois liberalism who is going to take the oath of office and immediately legalize gay marriage and overtax your unborn grandchildren, it’s pretty nuts to believe he’s going to take away your guns. But let’s restate that  —  your legal, non-Uzi-like, registered and safely stored hunting rifles and home-defense pistols and shooting-range Glocks and such.

Let’s recall the sacred writ itself, which the NRA claims is the sole reason this country is the “world’s shining light of liberty.” To wit: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The NRA seems to ignore the first clause in the Second Amendment. How is the 8-year-old kid who vaporized his head with an Uzi at a gun show a few weeks back part of a well-regulated militia, or that other 8-year-old kid a few days later who allegedly killed his father and another man with a gun he shot and then reloaded himself? Or, for that matter, how were Bernard Goetz, Mark David Chapman, the Columbine killers or the Virginia Tech shooter part of a well-regulated militia?

And then how to explain the more than 30,000 people shot to death  —  accidentally or on purpose, suicidally or homicidally  —  each year in this country?

But forget that. To quote ex-NRA member Rogers: “How could you even have a militia any more?” The idea that a band of armed citizens could rise up against an out-of-control government here at home was pretty much invalidated in the 20th century, not to mention the 21st. Ask Jim Jones. Ask the Weather Underground. Ask David Koresh. Hell, ask John Brown.

I’m not talking about all the hunters and marksmen and other gun owners out there raised around guns and taught to respect them as the killing machines they are. Those are the kind of people who join the American Hunters & Shooters Association, which endorsed Obama, as an antidote to the militant hard-line of the NRA.

What I’m talking about are the nut cases who seem to believe an Armageddon of criminals and crackheads and cutthroats will one day try to beat down their doors and take everything they have, including their lives.

In the final tally, the NRA’s pimping for gun rights is no more about the Second Amendment than the right-to-lifers’ vitriol is about saving the lives of unborn fetuses. What’s really at stake for these folks is the erosion of a mythology that has propped and buttressed their power through a combination of hyperbole, end-days religious hysteria and McCarthyite baiting that makes about as much sense as Chicken Little running around squawking that the sky is falling.